Friday, February 24, 2023

King of mythology

Were he alive today, Kuppuswamy would have been celebrating his 95th birthday. But no one would have referred to him by that name, for he achieved fame in Madras as Nagarajan. That was the name given to him when he was working with Avvai Shanmugam's drama company in the late 1930s. He did well on stage, including in sthreepart (playing a woman). He also started writing plays and in 1953, he shifted to the world of movies, adapting his play Nalvar for the screen. It was during an interview with a magazine that he revealed his 'original' name, and that he was the son of Paramasivam of Akkammapettai (near Salem). From then on, he was A.P. Nagarajan. 

Tamizh cinema of the 50s and 60s was crowded with 'social' movies, a reflection of the shift from ancient themes to challenges of the modern day human. It was A.P. Nagarajan who brought the spotlight back on to 'mythologicals'. His first film as an independent producer, 'Navarathri' (also Sivaji Ganesan's 100th film) in 1964, was a big hit. Yet, that year's blockbuster was 'Karnan', BR Pantulu's magnum opus, with an ensemble cast that included Sivaji, NTR, Savithri, Muthuraman, Ashokan and Devika. That reminded APN of his initial success with mythology - Sampoorna Ramayanam in 1958, for which he had written the screenplay. He now decided to focus on that genre as a producer, too. The movies that he brought out after 1965 were all hits, and many continue to be household names today. Saraswathi Sabatham, Kandhan Karunai, Thiruvarutchelvar, Thirumal Perumai, Agasthiyar, Thirumalai Deivam, Karaikaal Ammayaar and Sri Krishna Leela. During these years he also made Thillana Mohanambal and Raja Raja Chozhan, both of which were hugely successful, even if they were not mythologicals. 

AP Nagarajan's house on Chittaranjan Road has now been converted into a jumble of multi-purpose spaces. It has offices, a restaurant, a training centre, and Medai, a performance space. It is in the foyer of Medai that one can see this 'shrine' to APN; some of the awards he won, and a few pictures with national leaders of the day. While there is a memento of the runaway success of his 1965 film, I believe it should have been displayed more prominently, for in my mind, it was Thiruvilayadal that has had the most impact on the pop-culture of the state, with its dialogues being riffed on even to this day! (check out here and here for a couple of those. And this one with corporate overtones!)


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